This Present Anguish

Being in nature, we are provided with persistent reminders of God’s word and its significance to our lives. Working on the land, there are seasons where the thistles and weeds dominate the landscape if left unattended. Once the weed has flowered and gone to seed, it is said that another 100 years of weeds will be sown on the wind – spreading across the surrounding landscape. To engage in the exhausting work of pulling out weeds by the roots year after year leads to the establishment of a pleasant and productive landscape for all to enjoy. In the bible, weeds are indicative of a problem in a persons’ heart – what lies in the heart often comes out in their speech and behavior and grows to become evident in the person’s character, their public and private life.

Listening deeply to another person’s heart takes some effort, patience and resilience when caring for others. Importantly, it is not acceptable to weigh and judge the words of others but to examine our own hearts by listening to God’s voice. You see, the unresolvable questions and burden of unpleasant experiences, if left unchecked can cause a contagious illness to spread among the hearers. This illness is described as ‘bitterness’ in the bible and is like a weed in the good soil, with the potential to destroy the crop or harvest.

Take a look at the verse in Hebrews, how the context of this verse shows that bitterness may prevent us from living in God’s grace due to unforgiveness, it destroys peace, is a barrier to living a holy life and can corrupt those around us.

Hebrews 12:14, 15 – ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.’

For an excellent article on bitterness, I’ve chosen two articles, one from a woman’s perspective and one from a man’s perspective. I like Erin’s concluding sentence, indicating that we cannot dig up the weed of bitterness ourselves. For, it is only God who can cleanse our hearts and revive our communities.

Erin Davis – ‘4 Ways to Spot a Bitter Root’ on the Revive our Hearts: True Woman blog.

https://www.reviveourhearts.com/true-woman/blog/four-ways-to-spot-a-bitter-root/

John Piper – ‘What is a Root of Bitterness?’ on Desiring God, 1 April 1997.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-a-root-of-bitterness

We see the fruit of bitterness in people’s lives; anger, malice, slander, gossip, grumbling – it steals our joy, stunts the growth of the fruit of the Spirit and can even change us physically over time.

Recently, reading ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoevsky, spending over 400 pages in the mind of a bitter and tormented man who longs to know God and the love of another; I found this interesting summary of what it is like to live in anguish… (emphasis mine)

“He kept tormenting himself with these questions, even taking a certain delight in it. None of the questions was new or sudden, however; they were all old, sore, long-standing. They had begun torturing him long ago and had worn out his heart. Long, long ago this present anguish had been born in him, had grown, accumulated, and ripened recently and become concentrated, taking the form of a horrible, wild, and fantastic question that tormented his heart and mind, irresistibly demanding resolution… Clearly, he now had not to be anguished, not to suffer passively, by mere reasoning about unresolvable questions, but to do something without fail, at once, quickly. Decide at all costs to do at least something, or… ‘or renounce life altogether!’ he suddenly cried out in frenzy. ‘Accept fate obediently as it is, once and for all, and stifle everything in myself, renouncing any right to act, to live, to love!’ (43)

‘He was pale, his eyes were burning, all his limbs felt exhausted, but he suddenly seemed to breathe more easily. He felt he had just thrown off the horrible burden that had been weighing him down for so long, and his soul suddenly became light and peaceful. ‘Lord! He pleaded, ‘show me my way; I renounce this cursed…. dream of mine!’

In spite of his weakness, he was not even aware of any fatigue in himself. It was as if an abscess in his heart, which had been forming all that month, had suddenly burst. Freedom! Freedom!” (57)

We are all subject to torment and anguish, we are all exposed to unpleasant experiences – though some more than others. It is a consolation that ‘no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.’ 1 Corinthians 10:13.

When we consider the character of those who have been a voice for the oppressed and led the way for change throughout history, we are strengthened in our own difficulties, no matter how small they may seem in comparison. For example, the words of Nelson Mandela speak of triumph over evil and sin, his relentless self-examination to root out any bitterness towards his oppressors is the true source of inner freedom. His selfless act to speak out for the justice of many, regardless of the consequences, leads to growth in character and opportunities for a nation’s people to be given the right to act, to live, to love – in freedom.

‘It is in the character of growth that we should learn from both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.’ – Nelson Mandela

‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’ – Nelson Mandela

What can be done to save the harvest as it is so susceptible to weeds, besides guarding our own hearts and bringing our burdens to God each day for his grace, mercy and forgiveness? We can be a gracious and merciful listening presence among others who experience this present anguish and the torment regarding the difficulties of the past. We can speak out as Christ’s love compels us, to challenge evil and oppression, the abuse of power and be a voice for the vulnerable. God’s love is revealed to others when His people come alongside another person in their life’s journey, as we pray for one another, asking God to show us the way.


Nelson Mandela on character, Foreign Correspondent’s Association’s Annual Dinner, Johannesburg, South Africa (21 November 1997). Source: From Nelson Mandela by Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations © 2010 by Nelson R. Mandela and The Nelson Mandela Foundation

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, Penguin, 1993.

Featured Image: Spear thistle (UK)

Dreaming of Raskolnikov

If you would allow me to speak frankly, in the way my thoughts are naturally carried, I feel as if these past 10 years have been like a dream, an out of body experience even to reflect back on them. My sleep is an escape from it, when I wake I recall the insanity of this waking dream and lament.

Let me tell you that some time ago, when I was in my prime, in my element in life, several friends laid upon me their own waywardness. I became their scapegoat. It is a curious motif in Scripture that I’ve dwelt upon heavily in this dream-state of daily living.

I would not (at all) call myself spotless, but most definitely innocent of the crimes and vices projected upon me. I felt exiled, though truly the burden of it caused me to exile myself from certain social circles. I went to the fringe of society and felt comforted by those around me – extraordinary people.

A question arises about the ancient times, what would have happened if there was no scapegoat? The leaders would bow before the holy of holies and die. (Leviticus 16:7-10)

The questions still remains, then, what happens when the scapegoat returns from the wilderness and seeks to dwell again among the people? Those who cast her out feel shame, disgusted, their holiness questioned, they are more than put out.

They may well unleash their fury upon the creature and sacrifice it – lest it open its mouth to proclaim the horrid truths. You see, the biblical advice tells us there are dark things lurking within humankind, things that ought not be spoken.

However, that is what I did, I spilled it all to the highest on high in the spire. It was such a wild and lurid story I told – it was simply unbelievable, both to myself and to the keeper of the crook.

Again, we return to the question of what happens when the goat returns to the town. I was sacrificed, yet again I must say I sacrificed myself so to have the ordeal come to an end. I’d left the extraordinary people in the wilderness to return to the town, to be met with an inhospitable welcome and sarcastic frown. So, I continued to the city where all types and manners of humankind meet. The whispers in the backrooms drowned out by the heavy music, the chatter of the crowd, the beat.

A stayed, buoyed kind of happiness returns to me. As we consider that God makes a much better Master than men. So, I have no choice but to continue to offer myself as a living sacrifice – so to speak. For God gave all burdens to Christ, even mine, even the ones I carry that do not belong to me. So I can only say to Christ, I love thee.

‘Even in the wilderness, nature is not so stern as man.’

William Hepworth Dixon in ‘The Holy Land’

alex-forestier-666675-unsplash (2)

Image credit: Photo by Alex Forestier on Unsplash

Isaiah 40:3-4; John 1:22-24

 

Wilderness: 

2048 érēmos – properly, an uncultivatedunpopulated place; a desolate (deserted) area; (figuratively) a barren, solitary place that also provides needed quiet (freedom from disturbance).

In Scripture, a “desert” (2048 /érēmos) is ironically also where God richly grants His presence and provision for those seeking Him. The limitless Lord shows Himself strong in the “limiting” (difficult) scenes of life.

[2048 (érēmos) in the strict sense expresses a lack of population (not merely “sparse vegetation”). This root (erēmo-) does “not suggest absolute barrenness but unappropriated territory affording free range for shepherds and their flocks. Hepworth Dixon (The Holy Land) says, ‘Even in the wilderness nature is not so stern as man…]

Strong’s Greek Concordance

 

A Study in Prudence – Part 1. Friendships

“Oh, look! They’re playing Arabic music!” I pointed to the field stage in surprise and wonder. The music had only just cut through the conversation to reach my ears and awareness, so deeply entrenched in the beloved company I kept.

“Nah, really??” one answered sarcastically.

Taken aback at the tone, I am filled with dismay. I recall my brother’s wisdom and say; “‘Sarcasm is the product of an unoriginal mind.’ That’s what my brother used to say…”

I pondered on whether these words chastised but felt defensive at the seemingly unwarranted change.

I reflected inwardly and quietly, all the while the hum and drone of music surrounded me. The friends left to find some cider and reappeared with one for me. I drank it quickly and bought another. It was one way to lighten the mood. The night turned cold and frivolous, like the sparkling cider in my hand, making me giddy and nonchalant.

That moment changed everything so slightly, like a clock suddenly no longer able to keep time. I gained insight into the naivety of years of mere acquaintance. I was ready, on the brink, to pull in close to share the rest of the story, the private details of my associations with the Arabic people – how I was one of them, they were my people, yet time revealed they were not. On reflection, this was a mirror of the past – will I see it clearly now, then walk away and forget?

The budding friendship denied warmth, light and feeding turns grey and dried up like Autumnal blooms displayed in a dark room.

Who can tell why I trust and devote myself to this man, who spoke Aramaic, whose image and touch are unknown to me – yet occupies all my waking thoughts. He is an endless ocean with unfathomable depths, yet he is my Brother in life and death.

Proverbs 18:24 – One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

 

Image Credit: Anastasia Benko: Moody Autumnal dried flower arrangement with chrysanthemums and dried leaves.

The Year of Treading Carefully

Today my husband found a baby bird in our backyard that had fallen from its nest. The bird’s family were noisily protesting against our dog sniffing the bird, as they watched helplessly from the tree above. As my husband used his large, strong, gloved hands to gently return the bird to its nest, it reminded us of the fragility of life and how helpless we can feel when faced with situations we cannot control.

We watch scenes of natural disasters on the news and feel compelled to send money and goods to those affected areas. We hear of friends suffering relationship breakdown or health problems, we often do not know whether these situations can be healed. ‘God knows’ the dangers we face and the future that lies ahead of us. In Matthew’s gospel, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ concern for the wellbeing of His followers and His advice for how to live their lives in the face of uncertainty and even hostility.

Jesus sends the first twelve disciples out with plenty of guidance, warnings, instructions and wisdom, couched in words of comfort of God’s presence, promises and protection.

Read: Matthew 10

Prayer and discernment are required for Jesus’ followers to make good decisions about how to spend their time and energy, and with whom. As fellow bearers of God’s peace, we do not hold back our blessing on others, but simply offer it to those who are willing recipients.

To spend our time and our lives with those who are willing to harm others is not in accordance with God’s purposes for His people. Just as a dove would not be wise to nest in a lion’s den, we must protect ourselves, so that God’s word might be faithfully proclaimed to those who have ears to hear. We guard our hearts and minds, our time and energy, we watch our lives and doctrine closely – but rather than sacrificing significant relationships or putting ourselves in physical or spiritual danger needlessly, we must invest in relationships wisely so that we can sharpen one another and be united in our faith in Jesus Christ.

To be faithful followers of Jesus, we cannot be faithful followers of the world or its barrage of messages preached in the media. Those members of God’s family who seek to know the world and learn its ways for its own sake, are in fact denying God’s ways and His name. This is the type of conflict – a war of two worlds – that we are likely to encounter with our friends and family. We are asked to hold ourselves and one another accountable, with the life of Christ as our standard for faithfulness – that is, faithful until our death.

The smallest and simplest test of a generous spirit is given to us, as offering a cup of water to those who have open minds and humble hearts to receive God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. The cup of living water is what Jesus gives to everyone who turns their lives to Him, ours is a smaller gesture, yet no less significant in God’s view. For to bless those who love God is to be a part of God’s Kingdom family.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Be Wise and Pure Matt 1016


Matt 10:16 – ‘innocent’ (ἀκεραιος) has a sense of not destroying others, moral innocence, harmlessness, and purity – not to be tainted by sinful motives and ambitions. (Strong’s Greek #185)

Photo collage image credits:

Desert feet Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Watering grass Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Bird in the hand Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

(C) Lisa Haynes 2018

The Hands of a Surgeon

We put our lives in people’s hands every day. Pilots, train drivers, medical staff, even those who prepare our food at restaurants, these are just some of those skilled workers who are entrusted with the lives of others. We often do not think about this trust we place in people who are complete strangers to us. We would never think to check or questions the qualifications or experience of the airline pilot or aircraft maintenance schedule before checking in our baggage at the airport.

When things do go wrong, we must also trust the integrity of those investigating the problem, that the problem will be identified and corrected.  The potential problem and the identified disaster are all invisible to our eyes, yet we feel the consequences deeply – either personally or on the news or social media. These hidden problems and their impact affect us all.

What about our own hidden problems, are they so easy to hide and deny also? To whom are these defects evident, whose responsibility is to fault-find and rectify problems? Who ‘mops up’ the consequences when our faults in the framework of our character rise up and cause collateral damage in our lives? Who can be held accountable for these things, is it that loud person standing at the complaints department who is to blame for the disruption to the peace?

It is a painful process to look within and decide that there needs to be an adjustment in our behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. It is common practice at this time of New Year to do a systems check on ourselves and our relationships from the previous year and decide upon inner-change in some form or another. Most often it is the physical aspect which is decided to be unhealthy, with resolutions to stop smoking and drinking and start exercising as the perceived way to be a better person in the year ahead. This might make us look and feel better about ourselves, it might even make others look upon us with admiration or even envy for a trim physique.

What if our true need is much deeper and the symptoms harder to identify in us? Have we been putting off the comprehensive health check that involves our temperament and behaviour towards others on a daily basis, at home, work, school, in our neighbourhood? There is a heart to this problem – the will is at work and is not easily identified as it is also our will that glosses over it. There is only one person who can see within us and search our hearts and minds and wills to determine what problem exists and rectify it.

It is the Maker who is also the Judge of our condition. God is a skilled Surgeon and can excise a wound or cancer in our character and repair and heal the damage. Sometimes what is required is a full heart transplant in order to restore us back to full health. Putting ourselves into His care and attention will require full trust in His diagnosis. We must bring ourselves to Him, remain in His presence, be still and trust in His knowledge and wisdom. To put ourselves on the operating table we need to be at rest and peace, rejoicing in the outcome of the restored body, tending the wounds from the excision with care and patience.

It is God’s purpose as the Creator of everything to ensure its good and right order, to restore us and change us to become more like His Son, Jesus – who is for us the perfect model, a blueprint for humanity, He made a way for us to be redeemed and made new, to become more and more into the likeness of Christ.

‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.’ Titus 2:11-14

Lord, search us, cleanse us and change us by the work of your hands that made us, shape us into the likeness of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us clean hands and pure hearts to live with honesty, humility and gentleness in community with one another. (Psalm 24:4)

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

surgeon-heart-hands

Heart Hands image source

Featured Image Source

The Great Adventure – a True Story.

Not long after I became full grown, I was invited to go on a great adventure to a wonderful place where my name was written in the guest book. I left my home and family and travelled all around the world on land and sea – searching for signs as to where this adventure would be and wondered what would be in it for me. I moved house many times, across states, straits, territories and mountain ranges; along with my husband who also searched for this adventure. I raised children to take with us, as we moved to a large island where my husband grew up as a child. We wondered if there might be a wonderful adventure for us all there.

Soon after moving to the island in the south I received a calling card addressed to me which told me what I should do to follow the adventure to the wonderful place. I kept it to myself and treasured it; I showed it to a Guide in secret. He gave me clues as to what I should do and encouraged me to continue. As the years passed, the days became so dark I barely knew which way was forward or back. I could tell that it was not safe to share my card with some; others told me what I lacked.

But again we moved from place to place, unafraid and searching for the time when the adventure would begin. I kept this calling card close to my chest, wondering what it meant. Some people could see the adventure we longed for and joined us in the quest. I didn’t have many answers but we travelled along at our best. Some dear friends also left their home to follow their directions on their cards. Uncertainty grew as to the validity of mine; people warned of an expiry date.

We ventured even further south into the country where many card-carrying people met together. I spent a few years waiting and asking others what they thought I should do. I dared to show a few of them my card, a Guide and my husband. They shook their heads. One said he did not agree, and the other asked ‘Why?’ I didn’t have the answer so I hid it for a long while. I said lots of words and tried to tell others, they didn’t understand what they heard.

We suddenly met new people searching like us, launching life boats in new waters, searching for more people to join the adventure to the wonderful place. It was hard work launching boats, many people jumped in, others jumped out – at times it was rocky but still I wondered where were we floating and what must I do? I was doing so much, paddling hard around the bay and up the stream. I was unsure whether to say anything.

Around that time my strength was taken away, I could barely walk or move. I tried to keep doing and fell down flat. So I meditated on my card night and day and asked God what to be. I asked for the answer to ‘Why?’ and it came to me in so many words. Not just the answer to this but to all the other questions I had asked of others, questions they asked of me. We moved our family once again, fed up with the waste of tramping my family around all over the place. The losses were stacked against us, this time we were asking for a win. We wanted to be in a place where people would come in.

We found somewhere to live where I am able to walk and meditate on those words and answers; now I can share this with others. During the time when my strength was all gone, I found out that the whole time I was already on the great adventure and the wonderful place was right where I was, wherever God was with us.  I am still following directions on that calling card, not knowing what comes next. But I do know that wherever I go, it only happens when God says.

Prayer of Relinquishment

How can we as mere humans, tell God who is the maker of the Universe, what He should or should not do?

“God, I must have this and this; God this is what I want you to do for me” – is not real prayer and hence receives no answer.

“A missionary became an invalid for 8 years. Constantly praying to God He would make her well, so that she might do His work. Finally, worn out with futile petition she prayed, “All right, I give up. If you want me to be an invalid for the rest of my life that’s Your business. Anyway, I’ve discovered that I want You more than I want health, You decide.”

Within 2 weeks she was completely healed.

“I’m tired of asking was the burden of my prayer. I’m beaten, finished. God, You decide what You want for me for the rest of my life…”

Acceptance says – “I trust the good will of God”

Not resignation, or defeat.

Acceptance says ” I trust the good will, the love of my God. I’ll open my arms and my understanding to what He has allowed to come to me. Since I know that He means to make all things work together for good, I consent to this present situation with hope for what the future will bring.”

Acceptance is the Prayer of Relinquishment, a true prayer of faith that actively trusts God.

Say to God “I accept this”

Only in acceptance lies peace – not in forgetting nor in resignation, nor in busyness. His will is good, acceptable and perfect.

Acceptance leaves the door of Hope wide open to God’s creative plan.

  • Excerpt from “Beyond Ourselves” by Catherine Marshall; first published 1962.

 

(Image: Peter raises Tabitha from death: found in Acts 9: 36-43)